Festival Snapshot

It’s getting to be festival season for high school choirs and bands, and that means a reminder is needed:

Every performance is a snapshot. A single picture of your actual potential.

Will every snapshot show you in the best light? Of course not: even the most photogenic people take pictures with their eyes closed.

Consider a soloist performing at festival.

  • The soloist’s nerves could get in the way of their best performance.
  • The soloist could be underprepared (and learn a valuable lesson from this snapshot).
  • The soloist’s potential best, today, might not be where they want it to be.
  • The soloist might be perfectly prepared, but then hear devastating news right before performance.
  • The soloist might be making 5-10 different mistakes in rehearsal, but somehow miss most of them in performance.

Those are some performance factors that can affect the festival score.

But also consider the other humans in the room.

  • The judge could have had a personal tragedy and be giving everyone better than average scores.
  • The judge could have had a personal tragedy and be giving everyone worse than average scores.
  • The judge might not be conversant in the language the soloist speaks in, so doesn’t catch errors.
  • The judge might have just performed the piece, and so be very familiar with the piece and catch every error.
  • The support staff might be new to their jobs, leading to scheduling and organizational errors that leave everyone scrambling and on edge.

On average, I think the scores received at a well-run festival (like MSVMA’s many excellent offerings) are accurate. There is no perfect system but festival coordinators work very hard to ensure consistency and accuracy.

But your performance is not an average: it is a snapshot. In your life, you will get good snapshots and embarrassing ones. Best to not define yourself on a single one.

(And this is why teachers don’t base their ensemble auditions on a single snapshot. The wouldn’t use a judge’s rating at festival to determine next year’s placements, and while there might be an audition process, there must be a sense of the human being behind the audition. Every good teacher I know takes into account the much more accurate picture painted by a thousand snapshots taken over the course of a school year.)

I try to talk at great length to my students about consistency being the most important determiner of festival outcomes. We can’t control every eventuality, but we can do everything we can to make our own performance predictable and independent of any surprises thrown our way. And if we give a performance we can be proud of, the festival score outcome is, if not guaranteed, then at least a little bit moot.